21 September 2002 | sdiner82
Sparkling MGM musical. Jane Powell & Debbie Reynolds dazzle.
Unlike MGM's expensive, classic musicals of the 1950s, the modest, light-hearted but equally delicious "Athena" has been all-but-forgotten. A shame, because this lilting, lively melodious lark is not only a wryly amusing satire on an eccentric family of health-food nutritionists/numerologists, but, most importantly, a dazzling showcase for some of the most tuneful musical numbers to grace any film of its era. The score, by Ralph Martin and Hugh Blane (of "Meet Me in St. Louis" fame), offers such treats as Jane Powell singing the poignant, haunting ballad "Love Can Change the Stars" (which should have become a popular hit); Powell, Debbie Reynolds and their 5 sisters performing a breathtakingly energetic, knockout song-and-dance production number "I Never Felt Better"; and Ms. Powell (never more bewitchingly alluring) setting off vocal fireworks with her superb rendition of Donizetti's "Chacun Le Sait" from the operetta "Daughter of the Regiment." The plot, wherein Powell & Ms. Reynolds defie their nutritionist fanatic grandfather's (a delightful Louis Calhern) dictums by falling in love with, respectively, Edmund Purdom and Vic Damone (two carnivores with the wrong "signs") is decades ahead of its time in its wise, gentle and good-humored satire of life-styles and fads (culminating in a body-builder contest where one of Calhern's proteges is Steve Reeves, who would a mere 4 years later attain international screen stardom as "Hercules"). Amusing as it is, the plot rightfully takes second-place to the wondrous cast of MGM's most gifted young musical talents of the day--in their full vocal and dancing glory captured in glistening pasteled Technicolor. (Sadly, they were all soon to be given their walking papers when Television became the new national rage, and the first of the terrified studio's contract players to be dismissed were the stars of its taken-for-granted musicals. Indeed, Powell, Reynolds and Damone would co-star in only one more MGM songfest, "Hit the Deck"--as warm, charming, and tuneful as "Athena"--as well as a boxoffice disappointment.) Meanwhile, tune in "Athena" the next time TCM shows it--and don't be surprised if, weeks later, you find yourself humming, whistling or singing Ms. Powell's glorious delivery of what is perhaps this delectable movie's most rousing, catchy tune--the zesty, jubilant "Vocalize"!